A Roof Over Your Head
In the vast and untamed landscapes of Alaska, where the beauty of nature harmonizes with the spirit of adventure, entrepreneur Zak Penwell, is bringing integrity, reliability, and an honest eye to the property market. Zak is the owner of Precision Valuations, an award-winning real estate appraisal company with a reputation for reliability and timely delivery of comprehensive appraisal reports across Alaska. An Air Force veteran and longtime lover of The Last Frontier, Zak has always prioritized uplifting his community and aiming for excellence in everything he does. He recognized the industry’s data-driven reliance, as well as the unique challenges of residential appraisals in the Alaskan real estate market. Zak felt a sense of duty to assist those looking to plant roots in the growing Fairbanks community. In Zak’s words, he wanted to provide certainty in the face of uncertainty.
“Alaska is a challenging place for real estate because we don't have standard subdivisions. We don't have a lot of the cookie-cutter stuff you would see in a normal area where investors like to see clear-cut data. It's a tricky place up here, so we provide the best available data to help people make informed decisions. In short, we provide real estate appraisals to safeguard financial decisions.”
Making a House a Home
House appraisal is a meticulous and insightful process. Appraisers carefully assess every aspect of a property, from its construction quality to market trends. Through a thoughtful synthesis of data, measurements, and market knowledge, appraisers paint a clear and concise picture of a home's worth, offering a comprehensive evaluation and an honest and accurate representation of a home's essence and value. Driven by his can-do attitude and dedication to the Alaskan veteran community, Zak overcame his lack of real estate market experience.“We have a big military population up here, and many people were stuck, living in hotels with limited resources. They couldn't move forward with their lives because they didn't know if they would get the house or not. I started the business because I saw the need to help people get appraisals faster so they could get into their homes sooner.”
While Precision Valuations was only founded two years ago, they have already established themselves as a trusted, reliable choice in the Alaskan real estate market. Precision Valuations offers swift turnarounds, defensible valuations, and trusted support for clients and lenders. They help homeowners sell without realtors, maximizing equity and minimizing market time. Going beyond appraisals, they provide neutral valuations in divorce cases, ensuring fairness and confidence. Recently, they won the IVMF acceleration challenge, showcasing their remarkable growth and impact in two years.
“Integrity is core to being an appraiser. Although it's not an exact science, integrity is crucial. The appraisal industry exists to support public trust. If banks can't trust the value of the collateral, they won't lend money. Maintaining impartiality and providing fair valuations is the standard in our industry. If there was no trust, how many homeowners would we have in this country?”
Zak's entrepreneurial journey to small business ownership took him on a diverse and non-linear path across the globe, ultimately leading him back to his beloved home state of Alaska. Although he spent much of his childhood in Alaska, Zak temporarily moved to Texas during his teenage years. However, he always felt a deep connection to the 49th State. While in the military, Zak requested to be stationed in Alaska but ended up returning to Texas instead. During his service, Zak met his wife and they had their first daughter. However, frequent deployments to the Middle East made it challenging for Zak to provide a stable environment for his family. Seeking flexibility and a chance to establish roots, Zak made the decision to leave the Air Force. He relocated his family to the East Coast and pursued a degree at the University of Connecticut.
Zak was a natural athlete and began playing football with The Huskies before becoming a strength trainer for the team. The determination and drive for excellence that served Zak in the military were perfect for the world of professional sports. It had the camaraderie he felt in the Air Force and the personal fulfillment of seeing clients reach their full potential. After securing an internship with the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado, Zak was offered a job at the Scottish Institute of Sports Training in Scotland. In fact, he became so respected, Zak and his family moved to India to work with the India Men's National Basketball Team. Unfortunately, there was one major drawback: inflexibility. Zak had left the Air Force to seek a flexible career, but he’d found his new path more inflexible than ever. At that moment, Zak and his family made the choice to return to Alaska, permanently.
An Open Floor Plan
Zak knew there were no national teams based in Alaska in need of strength training or conditioning, but he wanted to keep an open mind. As daunting as it was to start a new career, he and his wife had always dreamed of returning to Alaska and raising their growing family. And as always, they trusted those instincts. Expanding his horizons, Zak worked in a few different industries, most notably as a train conductor, which he enjoyed. Unfortunately, the position lacked the flexibility he was looking for.
“It was a fun job, but there’s zero flexibility. If I wanted to help to coach my son’s football team or to teach Sunday school at church. I never knew if I could commit to that because I didn't know what my schedule was going to be. I wanted to live where I wanted to live and work the hours I wanted. I didn’t see it then, but that was the beginning of the hunger and drive to start my own business.”
Zak sought a flexible and fulfilling job within his community. He discovered a niche opportunity as an appraiser in a real estate company. Despite the position's specific requirements, Zak approached it with an open mind and dedicated five years to Hage & Associates. The mentorship was invaluable. It helped Zak cultivate a new career and establish a solid foundation. The journey to readiness was challenging. It required 200 hours of appraisal classes and a minimum one-year apprenticeship. Not to mention convincing a supervisor which seemed nearly impossible. However, after precisely five years, Zak knew he was prepared to venture out on his own.
A Growing Business Under Construction
Zak was in need of some one-on-one coaching and a boost of confidence to kick off his new business venture. He understood from his time in the military that no business owner can succeed by themself on an island. He knew he needed to build a network. While visiting the local Small Business Development Center, Zak was introduced to the services and resources at Business Impact NW through the Boots-to-Business program. Zak says he relied on one-on-one coaching when he needed guidance from operational efficiency to hiring and management. The mentorship guided Zak, providing valuable advice and knowledge to navigate challenges in starting and growing a company. It served as a trusted source, empowering him to overcome obstacles along his entrepreneurial journey.
“For aspiring business owners, my advice would be to find others who are successful in the field and plug into them. Utilize resources like Business Impact NW and Boots to Business to gain knowledge and guidance. There's so much you don't know when you're starting a business. Having a network that can point you the right way and learning from those who have already navigated the challenges will help you get through a tough spot and succeed.”
Zak's deep connection to Alaska and love for its breathtaking beauty fuels his drive to expand his business and serve the community. With an increasing number of new Alaskan residents, the demand for services has skyrocketed. Precision Valuations is currently expanding its footprint to South Central Alaska, including Anchorage and the Matsu Valley. Zak says he sees the positive impact they have made on the housing stock. By identifying and addressing health and safety concerns, Precision Valuations has ensured homes are secure for Alaskan families. “I value excellence in everything I do and want to be proud of my work. Being an entrepreneur means putting in hard work, being consistent, and striving for success. It's been challenging, but I've learned that success comes from doing the little things right consistently over time.”
Zak's can-do attitude and unwavering pursuit of excellence enable him to thrive as an entrepreneur. Recently, due to the business's success, Zak appointed his wife as a new appraiser. He imparted all the lessons he has learned along his own journey to her.. Zak proudly remembers his wife evaluating a property and uncovering safety issues. After resolving them, their appraisal played a crucial role in making the house a safe haven for a young family with three daughters. Each appraisal strengthens Precision Valuations' reputation as a valuable asset in the realm of real estate. For Zak, the stories and numerous lives touched serve as all the motivation he requires to continue making an impact. He dedicates himself to transforming Alaska and its vibrant community for the better.
“Alaska has always been the place that called to us, no matter where we lived. Even with a relatively small population, there are numerous things to do, unique opportunities and it is the only place we wanted to raise our family. Alaska has a certain grandeur and charm that appeals to those who have the right mindset. It's not for everyone, but if it resonates with you, it's truly a special place. We want to make sure it’s a special place where everyone can come, live, work, and thrive.”
About the author
Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day. As a Bay Area native, Janelle has witnessed the rise and fall of countless startups and small businesses. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.
Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She worked as a copywriter for companies such as Coldwell Banker, Callisto Media, a publisher of nonfiction and self-help books, and Artslandia magazine, a premier publisher of performing arts playbills throughout the Portland metro area. In a leap of faith, Janelle moved her family to Seattle in 2021 and worked with Committee for Children, an educational nonprofit committed to supporting the well-being of children through social-emotional learning.